The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), the national peak body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, expressed disappointment with the budget for 2011-12 presented by Treasurer Wayne Swan in Parliament last Tuesday.
According to an article by FECCA Chair, Mr Pino Migliorino, published on the organisation’s website,” the budget centralises the role of migration to Australia. Some of the key positive measures in the budget that have the potential to contribute to productivity growth ride on the back of changes to Australia’s migration policies. However, we are in many ways disappointed. While the budget centralises migration and the role of migrants in supporting Australia’s growth, there is invisibility around migrant issues in most other budget allocations.”
Immigration and Citizenship
“People of Australia” Policy Statement
The policy statement, The People of Australia, was presented to the Labour Government by the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council’s (AMAC) Chair Andrew Demetriou on 30 April 2010 at a function at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne. The statement was welcomed by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, Laurie Ferguson. Senator Evans had said, “The government is committed to ensuring that future multicultural policy is based on participation and inclusion. It is a policy that is about all Australians and it should seek to benefit us all.” Mr Ferguson had then acknowledged that “We owe much of what we enjoy in Australia today to our migrant heritage and we must strive to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to Australia.”
When it was published, FECCA welcomed the AMAC statement, particularly surrounding the need for the government to implement an anti-racism strategy, and to ensure that all services are accessible to persons from diverse backgrounds in line with FECCA’s past recommendations to government. However, Mr Migliorino had expressed FECCA’s hopes at the time of the policy launch of “seeing the government swiftly adopt the recommendations in The People of Australia through the implementation of a comprehensive multicultural policy.”
In response to last week’s budget, Mr Migliorino wrote, “Australia’s new multicultural policy, The People of Australia, was held up as a salute to the genius of multiculturalism. Yet we see that it only deserved resourcing at the level of $4.7 million over 4 years. In addition, this was not a new allocation but came out of existing monies. The disconnect between rhetoric and reality in the arena of multiculturalism flows through the whole budget. On the one hand, migration and migrants are crucial to ensure Australia’s growth and by this to get the budget back into surplus. However, migrant Australians will get no supports which will recognise the cultural basis of their needs and thereby ensure that they can indeed deliver the high expectations that this country has of them.”
Refugee and Asylum seeker issues
FECCA welcomed the small increase of 4,000 over 4 years to Australia’s humanitarian intake and the alignment of the off shore and on shore determination processes and hopes that all people seeking refuge in Australia will be able to access due process.
An additional 16,000 skilled migrants will support rural and regional development in Australia. However, in measures for regional development, Mr Migliorino notes that there is no mention of culturally appropriate support services in these regions. There is already evidence that migrant settlement in regions is not sustainable without adequate and appropriate services.
The small increase in the family migration stream is not in tandem with increases in skilled migrants. FECCA has maintained that family migration is critical to creating sustainable settlement outcomes and should be prioritised.
457 temporary skilled worker visas will be fast tracked to resource the need for workers in some sectors. The budget has also simplified procedures for pathways to permanent residency for this category which is a positive outcome in terms of creating more participation and inclusion. However, FECCA notes, the situation needs to be monitored so as to prevent a “guest worker” scenario that has brought enormous and intergenerational social problems in many developed countries.
National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)
FECCA welcomed the additional funding of $0.6 million for NAATI, fully aware that the demands on NAATI services are ever increasing with the increasing diversity of communities migrating to Australia.
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
FECCA welcomed strong measures in the budget in terms for support for some of the most vulnerable people in Australia. Its national Access and Equity consultations revealed that some communities have disproportionate and endemic unemployment issues and measures that address long term unemployment will benefit these groups.
However, in this regard, the need to prioritise cultural competency in service provision cannot be overemphasised. Without this, all well meaning interventions will continue to bypass some of the groups that need them the most. There is no recognition of the importance of the need for cultural competence in any of the measures. The only place where there is mention of cultural competency is in relation to a program for Indigenous job seekers. While FECCA strongly supports this, it also calls for a similar and overarching recognition of cultural competency across the board.
Some of the welcome measures announced in the budget in this domain are:
- Support for the long term unemployed people to gain employment and upskill through the provision of paid employment experience
- Changes in the apprenticeships program
- $20.0 million over 4 years for an additional 13,000 places for the workforce English Language and Literacy program. In this arena, it is important to include feedback about the effectiveness of these courses from non native speakers of English, including recommendations around bi cultural teachers.
- Apprenticeship mentoring
- Support for retraining for mature aged workers
- $143.1 million over 4 years to the Language Literacy and numeracy program to fund an additional 30,000 places
- Demonstration pilot project for Job Services Australia Stream 4 clients including joint case management models
- Information campaign around workforce participation
- National Workforce and Productivity Agency will be developed. Here FECCA would advocate for more data and research in migrant productivity contributions and barriers, as there has been almost no research in this area for some years.
Reforms to family, single parent and youth support
FECCA has grave concerns about the savings identified by cutting back where it hurts most through targeting vulnerable Australians.
Many Australians from migrant and new and emerging communities will be affected by changes to payments in this arena. Many of these community members already suffer a double disadvantage due to the barriers created by their cultural and migration histories. Further cuts will create increased disadvantage and burden on these groups.
Increased obligations on long term job seekers
The increased requirements for the long term unemployed will increase the impact on some communities where their memb
ers face endemic and long term unemployment issues.
The absence of a cultural framework in this very important domain of Australia’s public policy means that there is a total lack of understanding of the reasons why some communities continue to face long term unemployment. Some of the reasons are:
- Lack of systems knowledge
- Low English language skills
- Culturally inappropriate training and support services which do not create desired outcomes for the clients
- Discrimination and racism
Without recognising the specific issues that create some of the social outcomes, new and enhanced measures will inevitably fail to capture some of the greatest areas of unmet need.
Broadband Communications and the Digital economy
FECCA welcomed the funding of $12.5 million over 4 years for community broadcasters, including ethnic radio broadcasters.
Health and Ageing
FECCA strongly noted the complete absence of cultural diversity issues in the budget measures in this portfolio. Particularly in the Ageing sector, it is well established that there is an over representation of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Australians. It is also well established that CALD Australians will continue to increase in this demographic. Yet, there is no recognition of issues arising from cultural factors in the budget measures.
Mental Health Support
FECCA strongly supports the focus on Mental Health support. However, here gain, there is no recognition of particular issues of migration such as torture and trauma and cultural factors that create double disadvantage for people who suffer mental health issues from culturally diverse backgrounds. Culturally appropriate information provision and program designs are crucial to being able to engage with areas of acute unmet need in culturally diverse communities with regard to mental health. Yet, the budget ignores large communities in Australia who will, once again, fall between the cracks.
Mr Migliorino concludes his article noting that “FECCA has strongly advocated for a robust national multicultural policy and for Australia’s Social Inclusion agenda to include culture as one of its priorities. The exclusion of culture becomes evident in important public policy measures such as the current budget. The rhetoric of inclusion and participation will remain incomplete and unfulfilled as long as we refuse to engage with specific needs and circumstances that arise out of cultural factors. This budget has measures which can make a difference to migrant Australians- if they can access and understand and participate in well intentioned plans.”